Dom Pollard maps a feature on the BEARS survey study season
In 2023 the BEARS survey, an archaeological investigation of surface remains around the bay of Porto Rafti in eastern Attica, entered a new phase of study and publication following three seasons of fieldwork. As those who have kept an eye on the CIG blog over these last few summers will know, we’ve found quite a lot of material during our brief campaign in this unassuming coastal resort town. Given to the bounteous archaeological record that has accumulated in our intellectual cupboards since we began the project in 2019, getting everything studied and written up for publication is going to be a big task! We made a lot of progress in the 2023 study season, however, and everyone on the team is excited to start putting the pieces together and synthesizing our results. Over the coming year, we will be collectively writing what we hope will be a major contribution to the archaeology of coastal Attica, presenting lots of new material ranging from early prehistory to early modernity.
During archaeological study seasons, the primary theatre of battle usually shifts from the field to the lab, and the story was no different in the BEARS 2023 study season. From May 15 to July 1, our core team of dedicated pottery experts (Grace Erny, Joseph Frankl, and Melanie Godsey) worked diligently alongside co-director Catherine Pratt in the Brauron museum to finish cataloguing and start making sense of the material collected during the three field seasons. We also welcomed back Katerina Psoma and Phil Sapirstein to wrap up their analyses of the chipped stone lithics and tiles, respectively. Sometimes the material assemblages from survey projects are largely limited to those three categories of artifact: pottery, chipped stone, and tile. Our surface assemblage from BEARS is, on the other hand, quite expansive, including many additional categories of finds and types of materials – figurines, metal and waste from metal production, glass, textile tools, coins, etc. As a result, the BEARS study season lab saw a constantly rotating menagerie of different characters popping in and out for a day or three at a time. I hope the Brauron site dog and cat didn’t find it too confusing.
In addition to work in the museum, we had two main documentation goals in the field: to complete documentation of groundstone objects on Raftis island and to finish mapping architectural features on both Raftis and the Koroni peninsula. Thanks to the superlative top-quality work we’ve come to expect from our ace BEARS team, we largely crushed both of these field goals
The Koroni architecture team ponders a feature on the slopes
Speaking of crushing,
the quantity of objects in our Raftis groundstone catalog multiplied as quickly
as the rabbits that inhabit the island during the 2023 season. While surveying on Raftis in 2022, we had noted that there was quite
a lot of groundstone material scattered liberally around the site, including a
wide range of types: grinders, pounders, hammerstones, choppers, polishers,
tripod mortars: you name it, Raftis has collected ‘em all, like the winner of
an archaeologically-themed Pokemon-type game. For a variety of reasons, we
opted to conduct our study of these objects in the field, rather than take them
into the lab for permanent storage. Since we did not get through everything in
2022, Eleni Chreiazomenou and Grace Erny returned to finish the job, working
alongside the architectural documentation team, in 2023. In the final
summation, the catalog weighs in at 528 artifacts, up from a mere 207 at the
end of the 2022 season.
A lovely grinding stone with a carefully made raised handle from Raftis
A rather comical dynamic emerged as the architecture team was working on Raftis to try to find and map walls while the groundstone team conducted their analysis. As we mappers stared intently at the rock piles all over the surface of the island, squinting in an attempt to identify possible foundation lines or decide whether three stones in a row really did make a wall, we more often noticed additional groundstone objects in and amongst the collapsed architecture, which we flagged for Grace and Eleni to return and document. As a result, their goal of completing groundstone documentation receded ever farther into the horizon, rather than moving closer to hand, as the architecture team progressed towards completion of its task. For a while, we all had the feeling that we could have stayed there discovering, flagging, measuring, weighing, and photographing groundstone in an endless cycle, until the sun grew into a red giant, swallowing the earth and all its remaining tripod mortar fragments into its gaping, fiery maw. However, eventually we completed architectural documentation, stopped staring rocks for 8-hours a day, and called it a representative sample.
A sundry pile of “fresh” groundstone objects discovered by the architectural documentation flagged up and ready for analysis by the groundstone team (Photo by S. Murray)
Another Raftis stone find that is worth mentioning falls into a slightly different category of evidence. The islet of Raftis and the bay of Porto Rafti are thus named because of the monumental Roman-Imperial-era (ca. 100–200 CE) marble statue that sits enshrined on a large limestone plinth at the peak of Raftis islet. The statue is badly worn and damaged, with all of its limbs and head missing. According to local lore, it is intended to depict a tailor (or raftis / ράφτης in Greek) who once held aloft a giant pair of golden scissors. More likely is that the statue is a depiction of a Roman deity that was installed at the peak of the island sometime between the 7th and 14th centuries CE
The Raftis statue, here getting ready for its photogrammetric close-up (Photo by P. Sapirstein)
Taken in cumulative terms, the Raftis statue has attracted more attention than any other archaeological object in or from Porto Rafti. Travelers with antiquarian leanings have been visiting and commenting on the Raftis since the 14th century at least, though mostly from an amateur and/or dilettantish perspective. On the more serious scholarly front, there was a rather heated debate about the identity of the statue during the 1960s and 1970s. While those on either side held strong opinions about issues such as what the statue was supposed to represent and how/when it had been placed on the islet, it was clear to any neutral observer that the question could not really be resolved unless some additional evidence came to light.
Enter the heroic survey archaeologist! During the 2022 gridded collection, about 25 meters north of the statue, sharp-eyed team member Melanie Godsey spotted a rather suspiciously oblong white stone object in and amongst the limestone rubble. This worked marble block turned out to be none other than…..a statue fragment from good old Mr. or Mrs. Raftis! Apparently it had been sitting there unnoticed for the past thousand years or so
One of these stones is not like the other…. (Photo by S. Murray)
This year, with Phil Sapirstein, we decided to make a photogrammetric 3D model of the arm and the statue, to see if we could determine where it was originally positioned. Manipulating it together with a 3D model of the statue makes clear that it would have joined the right arm socket. This probably proves, at long last, what the statue was supposed to represent, and reveals several interesting new conclusions about how, when, and why the statue ended up on the peak of this little abandoned islet in a bay with nothing whatsoever dated to the Roman imperial period, and how it came to lose most of its limbs. But I won’t spoil the surprise here….keep an eye out for further BEARS publications to get the full story.
A 3D rendering of the Raftis statue with the phantom limb digitally re-attached (Rendering by Phil Sapirstein)
For now, after a fun and productive study season, everyone is focused on collectively pushing forward in writing such matters up. We will also return to Porto Rafti one more time in May/June 2024 to finish up a little bit more architectural documentation at Koroni, conduct some geological investigations, and (naturally) enjoy a final few weeks of morning swimming in the bright blue Aegean. Thanks to all who take an interest in the project, and, as ever, to all of the people and institutions that make BEARS possible!
The very hardworking Koroni architecture crew celebrates successfully completing their work on the fortification wall surrounding the site
Sarah Murray, University of Toronto, co-director, BEARS